Obama tells Thein Sein release Suu Kyi, but Asean differences remain – The Irrawaddy



US President Barack Obama asks the Burmese junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, signaling differences between Asean and US, after the joint US-Asean statement omits the request

SINGAPORE — US President Barack Obama made a personal request to the Burmese junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, signaling that there is different view between Association of Southeast Asian Nations and US.

Speaking to media after the inaugural US-Asean summit in Singapore today Obama said, “I reaffirmed the policy that I put forward yesterday in Tokyo with regard to Burma.”

On Saturday, Obama offered Burma the prospect of better ties with Washington if it pursued democratic reform and freed political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs also told the reporters that Obama raised the issue “directly” with Burmese prime minister Gen Thein Sein. The meeting was the first time a US President has sat with Burmese leader since 1966, and comes as part of the new US policy on Burma, which includes dialogue as well as retaining sanctions.

However, a 27-point joint US-Asean statement released after the meeting does not request Suu Kyi’s release, with Burma accounting for one item under the headline “Enhanced Partnership for Enduring Peace and Prosperity”.

The statement mentioned “the importance of achieving national reconciliation” and affirmed “elections held in Myanmar in 2010 must be conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.”

In recent weeks senior US officials have reiterated calls for a national dialogue involving all political stakeholders in Burma, especially with pro-democracy opposition led by Suu Kyi and ethnic groups. The joint US-Asean statement was limited to calling on the junta to begin “a dialogue with all stakeholders to ensure that the process is fully inclusive.”

Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong told media, after the closing of the Asean and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, “US-Asean is significant in the first place because the meeting actually took place, and in that both sides agree that the meeting is necessary and valuable.”

While not going into any detail about the content of the meeting, PM Lee pointed to differences between the US and Asean perspectives on Burma, by saying “the meeting was significant notwithstanding the difficulties they (the US) have with Myanmar.”

As an Asean member-state, Burma has stymied US involvement with Asean in the past, but Obama is keen to review the relationship with the fast-developing region as Chinese influence grows. Obama flew out to Shanghai this evening after a meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Obama called the US-Asean meeting “historic” and recalled how he is the first US president to have a personal connection to Southeast Asia.

Obama made reference to recent institutional changes in Asean saying “I expressed my strong support for Asean’s ambitious goal of creating community by 2015.”

He concluded by looking forward to a second US-Asean leaders meeting next year.

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